The whole system of Hindu guru/disciple initiation seems a bad fit for our times. Guru dependency is viewed mostly as a cult oddity that no intelligent person can really buy. If a student wants to form a relationship with a teacher, it should be a natural selection with no bearing on institution or rank. Why scare intelligent people away with guru dependency?

I am not sure I agree with you when you say that the guru/disciple relationship is a bad fit for our times. Buddhism, for example, is quite popular these days, with educated Western people--from famous recording artists and movie stars to college professors and students--entering into discipleship with Lamas or Rinpoches as their gurus. In some cases, they themselves have become gurus and opened monasteries. You risk insulting many intelligent people when you say, "No intelligent person can really buy the guru/disciple relationship."

I agree with you that choosing a teacher should be a natural selection. The free flow of faith should prevail, transcending institutional considerations. There should be no smoke or mirrors; only those who have little to offer need to employ such things to secure a following.

I make no claims of perfection, but I cannot deny that by the grace of my own gurus I have learned much, and inspired by this and their example, I have dived deeply into spiritual practice without coming up empty-handed. That which I have gained, I offer to others. To those who find their spiritual prospect in this, I am their guru, whereas in my own eyes I am a student, as we all are eternally.

How did we enter the karmic cycle of birth and death?

Our karmic implication is anadi, beginningless. There is no one particular act that started the ball rolling. It is best to concern ourselves with the fact that our material conditioning can come to an end and thus embrace the means to liberate ourselves from the bondage of karma.

I am Hindu girl who is proud to be a Hindu. Recently a person started saying things like Hindus worship animals and human body parts. In fact he told me that the Siva lingam which we worship is actually the penis of Lord Siva. Is it true? If this is true then what is the significance of worshipping this part of the body?

The linga of Siva metaphorically represents the impregnation of matter by consciousness. Siva represents consciousness, and his consort, Parvati, represents matter. Such metaphors have their limitations, but before anyone criticizes Hindus for worshipping the genitals of Siva, they must first consider who Siva is and what he represents: all individual units of consciousness impregnating and thus animating material nature.

Hindus may submit questions for the swami to editor@swami.org. Non-Hindus with questions on Hindu basics or etiquette (such as "What do I wear to a Hindu wedding?") are invited to submit them to columnists@staff.beliefnet.com.

This is an expression of God's joy in divine play, lokavat tu lila kaivalyam. In the Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krsna invokes the metaphor of impregnating material nature as follows:

mama yonir mahad brahma tasmin garbham dadhamy aham/sambhavah sarva-bhutanam tato bhavati bharata

"O Bharata, the great nourisher, my material nature, is the womb that I impregnate, enabling all beings to come into existence." (Bg. 14.3)

This impregnation mentioned by Krsna is described in other texts as his (Visnu's) divine glance that is Siva (Sambhu). This form of Siva is described this way in Srimad-Bhagavatam: vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh, "Siva is the best devotee of Visnu." By all means, great devotees of Visnu should be held in high regard.

In religious practice, material attachment and bodily enjoyment are discouraged. However, in the Kama-sutra the science of sexual pleasure is explained. How should we understand Kama-sutra and sexual pleasure in relation to other scriptures that teach pure devotion to God?

There are many Hindu books authored by sages that, while authentic in terms of their subject matter, are not directly concerned with spiritual life. Ayurveda, Natya-sastra, Kama-sutra, etc. serve as examples. For the most part, Kama-sutra is not concerned with God consciousness. It delineates the art of sexual union. If you want to have sex, read Kama-sutra. If you want self-realization, read Bhagavad-gita.

Why did God create demons and evil in the world?

This is a perennial religious question. "If God is all good, why is there evil in this world?" Gaudiya Vedanta acarya Baladeva Vidyabhusana explains that God's motive behind the manifestation of the world is only joy or sport: lokavat tu lila kaivalyam. It is not that God gains joy from manifesting the world, but rather the world is a manifestation of his joy.

However, because we see both godly and ungodly in the world, we are pressed to ask if in manifesting the world God is partial. Is he kind to some and cruel to others? If so, how can he be all good? The Vedanta-sutras answer this question by stating that the evil in the world is not the arrangement of God. The evil in the world is a result of karma. God merely manifests the environment suitable to the karma of the living beings.

Here we are talking about eternally conditioned souls (nitya baddha jivas), whose conditioning is beginningless (anandi), as is the world that manifests and becomes unmanifest in beginningless cycles. Karma governs this world, and for the most part God defers to its jurisdiction. When he shows his mercy, karma can be transcended and souls who have been conditioned from beginningless time can attain liberation from the jurisdiction of karma. Thus God did not create the evil in the world.

According to Gaudiya Vedanta, accepting this answer involves deferring to scripture as an authority on matters beyond our ability to conceive of. From the scriptural point of view we cannot ask why there is evil any more than we can ask why there is God. Both simply are, and scripture explains their nature.

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